Concert review: PSO backs up Bell's nimble performance

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Heinz Hall does not sport a particularly colorful stage, with a limited array of earthy and metallic tones from the instruments, black and white from the musicians' concert attire and red from the walls. The real colors, of course, come from the players themselves.

On Friday night, violinist Joshua Bell created a varied color palette that would make most painters jealous in performing Lalo's "Symphonie Espagnole" with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Guest conductor Gianandrea Noseda led the PSO for the second consecutive weekend.

Pittsburgh Symphony

With: Gianandrea Noseda, guest conductor; Joshua Bell, violinist.

Where: Heinz Hall, Downtown.

When: 8 tonight; 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

Tickets: $25.75-$105.74; or 412-392-4900.

The five-movement concerto premiered in 1875 as several French composers developed a fascination with Spanish music, and Mr. Bell delivered a virtuosic, piquant performance of the piece. Mr. Noseda opened the work with a deliberate, plodding tempo, upon which Mr. Bell layered a heavy, lush bow before switching to lighter and then silkier timbres. Indeed, the violinist kept the performance engaging by offering different shadings throughout.

In the orchestral opening of the third movement, Mr. Noseda drew out contrasts from the PSO musicians, and Mr. Bell continued the conversation in his own rendition of the tango, a dark lower phrase playing against affectionate high notes.

The piece has its fair share of fireworks, and he delivered on that front, too, from crunchy pizzicato to bright trills. The PSO provided confident support for the substantial orchestral part.

The orchestra showed off its own colors during Liszt's "A Faust Symphony," based on three characters from Goethe's tragic drama. The epic hourlong piece is rarely played, but the richly orchestrated work suited the PSO's expressive personality well, and Mr. Noseda drew out an awesome performance in the literal sense of the word.

The opening movement depicts Faust's character. In Mr. Noseda's nuanced take, the tense and beautiful themes seemed to push and pull off each other, while soloists, such as principal trumpet George Vosburgh, successfully chipped in on behalf of the latter.

The second movement zoomed in for a portrait of Faust's love, Gretchen. It has its own chamber music of sorts, and small combinations of musicians yielded a romantic yet poignant picture of the lovers.

Mr. Noseda created an intimate landscape in contrast with the larger scale of the opening movement, while gorgeous solos, too many to name, emerged from the fabric of an absorbing sound-world.

The agitation returned, though, for a feisty finale that encapsulates the devil character, Mephistopheles, using themes from the previous movements. It rose to a rousing ending, and the orchestra played the work without the tenor soloist and choir Liszt later tacked onto the end of the piece.

Elizabeth Bloom: or 412-263-1750.

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